In organizations where diversity is simple window-dressing and where managers suppress diversity of perspectives, research has found that these teams perform worse compared with homogeneous teams.
The bottom line is that increasing diversity without increasing inclusion is a costly affair. It directly leads to less engagement, and this is associated with less productivity, more absenteeism, and less collaboration.
What can be done in practice to embed inclusive behavior in an organization? Kay Formanek, author of the recently published book Beyond D&I: Leading Diversity With Purpose and Inclusiveness, provides a strategic approach and practical tools and frameworks on how leaders can foster an inclusive environment, where diversity can thrive.
Specifically, she sets out evidence-based initiatives that can be implemented to embed inclusive behavior, depending on the stage of diversity within an organization.
An inclusive environment starts with inclusive leadership
What leaders say and do can make as much as a 70 percent difference to an individual's feeling of inclusion, according to research published in Harvard Business Review. Thus organizations need to start with their leaders and invest in developing their inclusiveness. Formanek proposes three steps:
1. Raise awareness on traits of inclusive leaders
Most leaders are not aware of how team members assess inclusive leadership and so feel anxious. However, there has been excellent research that offers guidance to leaders, as highlighted by Formanek:
- Articulate and communicate your personal commitment to diversity with authenticity.
- Learn about your own bias and stringently mitigate bias that occurs on the work floor.
- Have a zero-tolerance for discrimination and become proficient in having courageous discussions when bias occurs.
- Invite discussion and contribution by demonstrating your curiosity through deep listening.
- Create the conditions of collaboration by uniting efforts through common purpose versus rules and providing airtime to all.
- Develop deep intelligence on cultural differences and embrace cultural richness.
"The behaviors of leaders, in particular, serve as signals to others on what constitutes 'acceptable' behavior. When leadership behavior is inclusive, there tends to be significant uptake and adoption of these evidenced behaviors by other members of the organization. When leadership behaviors are toxic, in contrast, this can lead to a chain reaction of similar behavior throughout the organization, undermining the diversity journey," writes Formanek.
2. Translate inclusive leadership theory into simple actions in practice
Inclusive leaders do not simply talk about inclusion, they practice it each and every day. Here are five simple tips provided by Formanek:
- When talking about diversity, link diversity and inclusion directly to the achievement of strategic goals of the organization.
- Make positive inclusive leadership feedback or assessment a prerequisite for senior leadership recruitment, promotion, succession planning, and expatriate assignments.
- Practice deep listening skills by showing genuine interest and asking questions, stimulating team members to build on shared ideas.
- Leverage technology to obtain regular pulse feedback on the state of engagement, and invite feedback on your own leadership and organization.
- Instigate meeting rituals that invite involvement, such as a simple check-in or a rotation of chair of the meeting, deliberately inviting feedback from all.
"A leader cannot be considered inclusive when they are inclusive on average. To be rated as an inclusive leader by members of the organization requires day-to-day consistency in inclusive behavior," writes Formanek.
3. Equip the leaders with the day-to-day skills
All leaders need support in being inclusive. There is a portfolio of skill-development tracks that are highly valuable for leaders:
- Cultural Intelligence Skills: This allows leaders to develop more sensitivity in being more confident in cross-cultural interactions.
- Deep Listening Skills: This supports a leader's being a good listener and creating the conditions for obtaining feedback.
- Courageous Discussion Skills: This supports a leader in being confident in responding constructively and impactfully when none-inclusive actions and behaviors occur.
- Bias and Talent Blind-Spot Regulation: This supports a leader's being aware of their own bias and the organizational talent blind spots and being able to regulate triggers that cause bias to be pronounced.
"Inclusive skills of a leader are the bricks of an inclusive environment," writes Formanek. Embedding inclusive behavior into daily actions is greatly advanced through leaders who are aware of the traits, have translated these traits into daily actions, and have developed the critical skills that lead to inclusion.
"There is no more impactful way to create an inclusive environment than through the behavior, practices, and actions of inclusive leaders. These leaders create a culture-in-motion and are emulated for being outstanding diversity and inclusion role models," writes Formanek.